Did CNN say “ya basta” to Lou Dobbs?

After several months of a focused internet and social media campaign pressuring CNN to fire Lou Dobbs, the xenophobic pundit announced tonight he is leaving CNN effectively immediately.

BastaDobbs.org–the virtual Latino coalition which led the campaign against CNN–is claiming victory. “We are thrilled that Dobbs no longer has this legitimate platform from which to incite fear and hate,” said Roberto Lovato. Lovato, who is an accomplished writer, is also the founder of the Latino-advocacy group Presente.org, the lead organization behind the anti-Dobbs campaign.  “The community is newly empowered and energized,” he continued, “and we are ready to fight for a respectful and civil media discourse when it comes to immigration coverage on mainstream news.”

I couldn’t be happier that Lou Dobbs’ uncritical voice of hate is off the air.  I am a firm defender of anyone’s right to free speech, but I am also fiercely opposed to the  notion that we are better as a society if we provide a platform for all speech.  Television news–and cable news in particular–has moved into an era where providing a “safe space” for the voices from the political extreme has come to substitute for critical discourse and constructive debate.  That isn’t the news and it isn’t “fair and balanced.” It’s petty, and it’s lazy, and it needs to evolve.

I am also a big fan of Roberto Lovato and Presente.org, for all practical purposes the brains and muscle behind the campaign.  In many ways, all of the folks at Presente.org who worked hard on this for months have something to celebrate tonight.

But I would also urge people to be cautious about Dobbs’ departure.  It’s not only too early to tell whether or not this was a victory for “the campaign,” the signs may be telling us it is a victory for el otro lado.

I reluctantly never signed on to the BastDobbs crusade.  The historian in me sees too many pitfalls in campaigns that target an individual rather than what that individual represents or advocates.  Lou Dobbs was never the real problem plaguing Latinos in America.  He was a symptom of the larger problem, perhaps at worst a nurturer of it.

That larger problem is a system of entrenched racism that is violent.  It is a lack of humanist compassion and empathy.  Fear, hate, ignorance are its friends, but even they are not its substance.  If Americans everywhere hated Mexican immigrants and did nothing about that hate, there wouldn’t really be a problem.

All that said, we are still better off not having Dobbs on TV.  My primary worry comes from how his departure took place.  CNN chief Jonathan Klein likely either pressured Dobbs into leaving or, in essence, fired him.  By letting Dobbs dictate the public nature of his departure, CNN never has to be publicly accountable for continuing to provide him a platform for the past four years as he grew increasingly hostile toward immigrants and Latinos.

Dobbs also gets to leave CNN as a populist hero for the Right wing.  The inference that CNN pressured him out on the supposed effort of a bunch of radical Latinos helps fashion Dobbs into a martyr for the cause.  Time will tell whether or not this is the case.  Until we see where it is he ends up, we don’t know the measure of the victory.  In fact, we may have given him even greater and more authentic power in the eyes of the small constituency to which he speaks.

Finally, the “teachable moment” that was Lou Dobbs program is now gone from the air.  That doesn’t mean its views are defeated, and it doesn’t mean uncritical analysis of our most pressing problems is gone from CNN.  It does mean CNN gets to put on its best suit and tie and now pretend that what it gives us is the news.  It also forces the anti-Dobbs campaign to have to define the problem anew.

In her legendary work of art Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldúa reminds us:

“But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed. . . [it] refutes the dominant culture’s views and beliefs, and, for this, it is proudly defiant. . . But it is not a way of life.”

This week news surfaced that CNN paid Dobbs to go away. This article in the New York Post alleges Dobbs walked away with a check for $8 million from CNN in exchange for his early departure. Dobbs himself is also speaking out, as you can see in his recent visit to FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly.

Veterans Day

I am the son of a veteran. I am the nephew of a veteran. I am the friend of veterans.  I am the friend and relative of future veterans.

Veterans Day–formerly Armistice Day, marking the end of the “Great War” (World War I)–is a day of both gratitude and moral urgency for me.  I know enough in my own life to not stereotype the motivations and nature of participation of the men and women who serve in combat roles in the US military.  My pacifist and anti-nationalist politics don’t preclude me for having a deep respect for people who bring politicians’ decisions into reality, however willingly or not they do so. Knowing both a little bit about the results of those actions, that respect comes with a certain sense of sadness, too. Even if one survives, there are few who participate in war who are spared by it.

And that frames the moral urgency of a day like this.  Veterans Day is a day to focus some thought and attention on assuring the future demise of the holiday.  We live in a world where the prospect of war seems immutable until we discover the depth of the prospect of peace.  Then we should be compelled to act to end this human folly.

I long for a day when there are no more veterans to mark a day like this; when people never have to make the choice whether or not to “defend their country”; when families never have to suffer the pain of separation and loss; and when the involvement of the US in millions of human lives around the world is not dominated by its ability to bring death and suffering.

Barack Obama is about to make a decision on the war in Afghanistan. At this point, all that is unknown is how many more troops he will send.  It is the wrong decision. You might feel like you don’t have the expertise to say that; like the military leadership who is asking for more troops represent the select few who can really judge. You would be wrong if you thought that.  That you do is perhaps understandable, but it is also part of the problem.  When we abdicate our responsibility to think and feel like humanists we contribute to the obliteration of any humanist possibility.  The sad truth is that there are those who think that any military situation can be “won” militarily.  History is proof that this is not the case. The future need not continue to confirm this further.

George Lopez “Races” Late Night

Comedian George Lopez debuted “Lopez Tonight” on Monday, November 9.  A veteran of the stand-up stage, Lopez’s foray into late night does little to mess with the familiar format honed by Johnny Carson and tweaked by Leno and Letterman: it includes a monologue, video-taped comedy segment, celebrity interview, and musical guest.

The primary difference, as pushed by Lopez, is the “color” of the show.  “¡Órale!” he exclaimed as he walked out on stage.  “The revolution begins right now!”


It’s an odd role for Lopez, the man who carved out his niche in prime time as a Mexican Bill Cosby.  His eponymous sitcom featured a middle (maybe even upper-middle) class family struggling with the same kinds of life issues faced by any family.  Its lack of depth and specificity relating to Latino life was deliberate.  It didn’t evade “race,” but it rarely let it mean more than “we” are slightly different but still the same.

Putting race at the forefront of his first late-night monologue, Lopez now seems to be making himself both a political advocate (“This is what American looks like,” he proclaimed of his multiracial audience) and a purveyor of “race talk.”  Most of his first monologue focused on the kind of “race comedy” we’ve heard since the early days of Richard Pryor: he made fun of whites (often drawing them as “racially other”), used racial stereotypes to get easy laughs, and even offered some multiracial celebratory jokes (describing how much better “we” look when we “mix”).  The rest of his stand-up built off of relationships and other “general” topics, while consciously carving out the terrain on the edge of “urban hip” (of the marriage of a centenarian and a 20-year old he said “That’s not polishing the knob, it’s called antiquing”).

The problem was, it didn’t reflect the depth, creativity, and authenticity of later Richard Pryor.

George Lopez is selling himself as something new in late night because he is something brown in late night.  The first person of color to host a “major” late night show since Arsenio Hall, Lopez made his statement both literally and symbolically, with his inaugural guestlist composed of Eva Longoria, Kobe Bryant, and Carlos Santana.  But being brown isn’t always representing something new.

Lopez’ taped video segment was a racial tweak of a standard Leno segment.  His camera crew stopped a person of color on the street and talked to them briefly before asking them if they fulfilled a ubiquitous stereotype (they asked a black guy if he had been to jail; an Asian man if he had a small penis).  The audience, and two members chosen from them, then had to guess what the person would say in reply.

Lopez is certainly providing something different in late night.  Frankly, I’m not sure we’ve had this kind of clumsy interaction with the meaning of race and racial diversity in the US since the 70s.  But, so far, that isn’t panning out to be something better.  I’m willing to let him settle in to his new role and see what he has to offer in the weeks and months ahead.  Let’s hope it entails some growth.


When you voted for Obama your work had only begun

One year ago today, on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.

At the time, and like many others, I celebrated this milestone in US history:

Today I think of all the millions of lives who fought for a fraction of what has just occurred. Today I think of all the lives that were lost in the name of racial hatred and in the struggle for racial justice. Today I think of all their deferred hopes and dreams, the progress they knew could happen but they could not live to enjoy. Today I am amazed at the victory of their words, of their ideas, of their blood.

One year later, the blissful exuberance of the election has begun to temper. Many “progressives” see this as a partial failure of the Obama administration, if not the man himself. I couldn’t disagree more. If the “Obama era” has not measured up to your visions of a healthier government, a more humane nation, and a more just world, put the blame squarely where it belongs: on you, on me, on us.

A day before Obama was elected, I wrote the following:

In the upcoming months, progressive people of conscience (“non-white” and “white” alike) will have to begin the difficult work of checking their own assumptions. Many have this belief that because a black man will be in the White House that everything will magically become better. Many expect Barack Obama to take a leadership role in transforming the political system in meaningful ways. But why? Why should this special burden be placed on Barack Obama when it has not been evenly placed upon all politicians? Of course, he does have a special obligation regarding race, but that is the same responsibility we all share–white, black, or otherwise.

One year ago today was an important day. It was historically significant. It was also emotionally uplifting. But it wasn’t the end of something. It was just the beginning. The act of voting for “change” doesn’t bring it; if it is successful, it merely presents us with yet another opportunity to do what is right, what is best, what is just.

So today is the one year anniversary of a new opportunity. Whether that opportunity will translate into a new reality isn’t up to President Barack Obama. It is up to us. As James Baldwin said “No one else can do it. The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

Now, back to work.